Breaking down Tennessee’s record gun deaths

Published 3:52 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


The Center Square

Tennessee had a record 1,570 firearm deaths in 2021, with 52% of those coming by suicide.

Email newsletter signup

A new report from Sycamore Institute heading into an expected Tennessee special session Aug. 21 looked at the details of those numbers, with 80% of those deaths being men and 60% were white Tennesseans.

Of those older than 35, suicide was accounted for the largest total while homicide was the largest cause of death related to firearms for those under 35.

The numbers showed firearm-related deaths have gone from 848 in 1999 to 948 in 2011 and totaling more than 1,200 per year since 2017.

Gunfire was the 10th leading cause of death in 2021 with 18,468 coming from heart disease, nearly 15,000 deaths from cancer and more than 12,000 from infectious/parasitic diseases.

“Our firearm death rate was the 11th highest in the U.S. and 53% (7.8 deaths per 100,000) higher than the national rate,” the report said. “That gap has grown over time.”

From 2011 to 2021, the rate of firearm deaths rose by 623 additional deaths per year, a 66% increase. The annual rate of homicides with guns more than doubled during that time and doubled for all age groups except those over age 65.

“Between 2011 and 2021, the shooting death rate grew by 4.7 deaths (162%) among Tennesseans under 19, 18.8 deaths (93%) among those ages 19 to 34, and 6.2 deaths (34%) among 35 to 64-year-olds,” the report said. “Gunfire caused more deaths among one to 18-year-olds than any other cause in 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021. Nationally, gunfire became the leading cause of childhood death in 2020.”

The rate of crimes involving a firearm rose by 122% from 2011 to 2021 while the rate for all other crimes dropped by 5%.

In non-fatal crimes, the rate of the crime involving a gun grew by 104% over that time while all other crimes dropped by 24%.

Over the past five years, most of the gun-related deaths came in the most-populous counties with 2,627 in Shelby County, 1,171 in Davidson, 704 in Knox, 604 in Hamilton and 399 in Montgomery.

The lowest five on the list were Wayne (25), Chester (27), Bledsoe (28), Haywood (30) and DeKalb (30) counties.

Only Stewart County had a higher shooting death rate per 100,000 people (28.2) than Shelby (28.1). Williamson (8.9) had the lowest rate, followed by Jefferson (11.7) and Loudon (11.8).

Tennessee’s rate of homicide deaths by firearm was 7.8 per 100,000 while the national average is 3.9 per 100,000.

“Persistent gaps in firearm-related death rates between Tennessee and the U.S. have widened over time, particularly among children and for homicides,” the report said. “For example, the rate of gun-related deaths among children under 19 in 2011 was 0.4 deaths (16%) higher in Tennessee than for the nation and 3.0 deaths (65%) higher by 2021. Similarly, Tennessee’s gun homicide rate was about one-third (1.2 deaths) higher than the national rate in 2011 but two-thirds (3.9 deaths) higher by 2021.”